16 candidates run for 9 spots on the Groton Town Council

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Oct. 23—GROTON — Nine Democrats and seven Republicans are vying for the nine seats on the Town Council, with candidates naming priorities, such as economic growth, COVID-19 response, infrastructure and the Mystic Oral School.

The race features incumbent Democrats Portia Bordelon, Aundré Bumgardner, Rachael Franco, Juliette Parker and Juan Melendez along with new Democrats Melinda Cassiere, Edward Jacome, Bruce Jones and David McBride and Republican candidates Diane Barber, Kathy Chase, John Scott, Robert Boris, Scott Westervelt, Bill Furgueson and Jennifer White.

Groton Democratic Town Committee Vice Chairwoman Natalie Burfoot Billing said the Democrats are running on a record of environmentalism, open space, creating an ethics commission, new schools, community policing, and fiscal responsibility. The platform wants the town to address climate change, revive downtown, continue a commitment to transparency and public input, support human services and education.

Republican Town Committee Chairman John Scott said Republicans want to bring more transparency and open government and allow more opportunity for residents to speak as well as councilors. They want to bring fiscal responsibility to the town's finances. The Republicans are looking to end the Mystic Oral School project, a proposed mixed-use development, and "hold those accountable for how we got here," Scott said.

Burfoot Billing said the state is looking at disqualifying the Mystic Oral School developer, which would cancel the sale agreement for the state-owned property. The Planning and Zoning Commission has not supported the size, scale, and proposed zone changes. The Council directed the town attorney to send a letter saying the developer has not fulfilled his obligations.

Candidates

Diane Barber, 64, co-owner of New London County Contracting, vice-chairwoman of the RTC, and former Councilor, said she's not happy with the Mystic Oral School "debacle" and wants to stop it.

"I am for responsible economic development," she said. She wants to "investigate the vetting of contractors that plan to build in our community, and change it to protect future developments."

Two-year councilor Portia Bordelon, 41, a medical assistant, and former RTM member, said an elected official's top responsibility "is to serve as a conduit for citizens' concerns and facilitate community conversation in a constructive manner." She'd like to restore public comment at meetings to twice a month.

Bordelon wants long-term recovery funds to be allocated equitably with a priority for those most impacted by the pandemic. She supports "equitable education opportunities" and "environmentally responsible, sustainable and community-rooted economic development."

Bordelon had publicly rescinded her support for the Mystic Oral School. The Council has begun work on revising the RFP process for excess properties.

Robert Boris, 51, a principal in a computer technology company, said diversity of opinion, fiscal responsibility and transparency are priorities.

"The town needs to manage the people's money wisely and invest in programs and services that provide value to our community," he said. He wants to ensure residents have details about town plans and have the chance to "comment robustly and continuously."

Boris said that any Mystic Oral School proposal should have "community support and involvement in the planning process."

Aundré Bumgardner, 27, an incumbent Councilor since 2018, Groton City Planning and Zoning Commissioner and former state representative, wants to properly vett and allocate the town's American Rescue Plan funds. He said spending should focus "on equity and opportunities for those who have been hit hardest" by the pandemic.

He wants to enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety, and adopt a responsible contractor ordinance to provide apprenticeships, support local trades, "and safeguard taxpayers from projects like the proposed Mystic Education Center redevelopment."

Melinda Cassiere, 35, an RTM member, stay-at-home parent and former police officer wants to ensure Groton is safe and affordable. Since leaving her career, her family became a one-income household so she understands the struggles of families, especially during a pandemic.

She wants to fix roads and bridges, have social workers on every shift at the police department and create a community policing unit.

Cassiere supports the town's letter saying the Oral School developer is out of compliance and said any developments should fit the neighborhood.

Kathy Chase, 68, director of contracts for a non-profit agency and an RTM member, is running "to help ensure that Groton's growth and change is implemented with foresight, fiscal responsibility, and a respect for our communities."

Chase said her priority "is to restore the people's voice by bringing transparency back." She wants to minimize tax increases through fiscally responsible economic growth and also advocates for a town green.

She said the current Mystic Oral School proposal is too big, and the community needs more single-family homes.

Rachael Franco, 52, is a Councilor since 2017, and a business manager who founded the Groton Beautification Committee. She said she wants to enhance quality of life with good town services, well maintained infrastructure and assets and increase amenities. She wants to invite the community to participate in ways to improve the town.

She wants to help bring back the once-thriving downtown. She wants to increase athletic fields and maintenance of highly used open spaces and add more neighborhood parks.

Bill Furgueson, 49, chief marketing and fundraising officer at The Arc Eastern Connecticut and Downtown Mystic Merchants president, wants the public to have opportunities to voice their views.

He would support teachers in the school system "with a robust budget" and promote a marketing strategy for small businesses to relocate or start in town.

He supports the Mystic Oral School endeavor but not at its current scale. He'd like a development to create housing and tax revenue and wishes, "we can do a do-over with the process so that we are not at the current discontent within the surrounding neighborhood."

Edward Jacome, 26, clerk at the Coast Guard Academy Child Development Center, is an RTM member. COVID-19 response is among his top priorities.

"Having resources like pop-up vaccines and testing clinics more frequently available for those who need it will, with time, allow us to return to a somewhat normal state of living," he said.

He also wants to focus on economic growth and the right-sized businesses. Infrastructure and coastal resiliency are priorities.

He is against the Mystic Oral School proposal but is for an appropriate development in that area.

Bruce Jones, 66, a graphic designer, serves on the RTM. He wants to support the town's open space, conservation and resiliency efforts.

He wants to make it easy to open, maintain and grow a business in Groton, with businesses as "one of the key components to a successful community." He also wants to ensure the Senior Center remains strong with good programming.

He supports the letter the town has sent to the Mystic Oral School developer.

David McBride, 52, a Groton Economic Development Commission member and New London's finance director, said a priority is to review the budget "to ensure every taxpayer dollar is being used properly" for all residents while ensuring the government is operating effectively and efficiently. He supports long-term financial planning and smart economic growth.

He said he will ensure people living near proposed developments are included early and often.

For the Mystic Oral School, McBride said he would support in the future a detailed review of proposals, including suitability for the neighborhood and financial ramifications, for various types of housing and options such as recreation facilities, open space and trails.

Juan Melendez, 30, real estate agent who has served on the RTM and Water Pollution Control Authority, is running for his second term on the Council. He wants to ensure that when decisions are made on how to spend federal dollars that the town will be allocated, "the loudest voices in the room are the residents of Groton."

Priorities are to fund the new resilience and sustainability coordinator position, create a long term plan for the community center and sell off excess town properties with the town's improved RFP process.

Juliette Parker, 48, is the administrative assistant to the police chief in the City of Groton and an incumbent Councilor since 2017 and board member for TVCCA and Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee.

"I have many ideas and want to continue the people's work," she said.

Her top priority is economic expansion, and she said the town "needs more businesses to provide economic opportunities for all."

She wants to ensure that the Groton 2020 Plan is benefitting all students, and another priority "is the health and well-being of everyone."

The town's attorney advised Town Councilors to not comment on the Mystic Oral School project, due to potential legal ramifications.

"The Democratic Town Councilors have agreed to cooperate with the town attorney in the legal proceeding that's underway for the best possible outcome that the community wants on this issue," Burfoot Billing said.

RTC Chairman John Scott, 52, works in insurance and is a former state representative, town councilor and RTM member.

He wants to stop "the current oversized Mystic Oral School project in deference to something much smaller and appropriate for the community, to bring transparency by allowing both councilors and constituents sufficient time to discuss town business, and to control or reduce spending and taxation in Groton."

He said the Mystic Oral School developer "must be fired," and the town needs to work with the state to see pollution issues are cleaned up, and then rebid the property.

Scott Westervelt, 58, a traffic signal superintendent and chair of Mystic Oral School Advocates, a group opposed to the proposal at the Mystic Education Center, named transparency and accountability as priorities.

"My first priority is to uncover all that has been done to put the Town in the legal jeopardy that has become the Mystic Oral School Development and work to a resolution of the problem including pushing for a new RFP that puts the property to responsible use," he said.

He also wants to focus on youth sports.

Jennifer (Jenn) White, 49, a finance professional who served on the Town Charter Revision Commission, wants to ensure that Groton remains a place where people can raise their family, work and live in.

Her priority is to determine "how to fix the mess that is currently known as Mystic Oral school development" and "increase transparency with increased communication."

She wants to ensure teachers and parents are getting the support they need for children. She wants to improve downtown by supporting businesses and encouraging planned development.

k.drelich@theday.com

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